by Jeffrey Davis, APR
Originally printed in Capitol Communicator 2/13/2020. Reprinted with permission.
The Iowa caucus digital disaster prompted many of us to question the confusing and not-so-reliable system. Neighbors gathering in churches and libraries to convince each other to huddle under a sign for their candidate? Then it takes over a week to tabulate the results?
Not only is there a crisis communications lesson in how (not) to launch a simple but untested app, but it reminds us how a Maryland PR pro might have tipped us off to a better approach many decades ago.
Born in Western Maryland, the late Paul E. Welsh had an impressive public relations career in Baltimore, working as a reporter for The Sun from 1940 to 1955, and then PR for the new team in town, the Baltimore Orioles. He retired in 1978 after 21 years in public affairs at McCormick & Co.
Each year the Maryland Chapter of PRSA marks his legacy with the Paul E. Welsh Award, recognizing a PR pro who exemplifies his creative talent. In 2019, Van Eperen’s own Emily McDermott was honored with the prestigious award.
Welsh’s most enduring brainstorm came in 1939 when he created the slogan, “Maryland — America in Miniature.”
Picture yourself high above the mountains of Western Maryland near Welsh’s birthplace in Cumberland, Md., then heading past acres of farmland and rural communities. Then over the parks, row homes and office buildings of Baltimore, toward the Inner Harbor. Then it’s off to Annapolis, across the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers and marshland of the Eastern Shore and down to the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
That’s the Maryland version of “sea to shining sea,” and the people of Maryland are just as diverse as the terrain. Much more than the 90% white Iowa and 93% white New Hampshire. About a third of Maryland’s population is African American, 10% are Hispanic, and 7% are Asian, according to a census study by Wallet Hub showing that half of Maryland is white. Gaithersburg is the most diverse municipality in Maryland, followed by Hyattsville, Rockville, College Park and Greenbelt, which are among the top seven in the U.S. according to that study.
For that Iowa feel, candidates can meet with the farmers and visit the rural communities of the Eastern Shore and the northern counties. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties next to Washington, D.C. will test the views of the suburban voter, and of course there’s Baltimore and the complexities that come with an urban center.
Multiple media markets offer candidates a television presence for those campaign ads, including Salisbury and Hagerstown, and of course Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
And Maryland is compact, meaning more efficient travel and less exhaust and gasoline consumption for those campaign SUVs and buses. The food’s not bad either, so candidates can skip the staged diner interviews for something with more variety.
Let the Iowans gather in the gymnasiums and caucus all they want but imagine how the political landscape would change if Maryland voted first, allowing for a more accurate reveal of what a cross-section of Americans sees in the candidates.